Updated: Mar 31, 2020
Jacob Fryxelius’ Terraforming Mars wasn’t merely a successful board game, it has been a gaming phenomenon. Quite apart from the official expansions that continue to fill the Terraforming Mars eco-system, the game has also given rise to a huge parallel marketplace filled with unofficial extras, adornments and add-ons, including box inserts, player board overlays and 3D plastic hex tiles to replace the cardboard originals.
Given the popularity of Terraforming Mars, it’s perhaps surprising that a game from the same stable can have attracted so little buzz. After the Virus is also designed by Jacob Fryxelius and published by Fryxgames. It’s a small box deck management game designed for either solitaire play or for two or three players to play co-operatively.
The title might suggest a Pandemic style theme but After the Virus is a zombie game. Players are trying to survive and achieve various mission objectives in the face of successive waves of zombie cards. Because the game is a deck builder, discards are recycled, and that increasingly includes the zombie cards too – so this is a game that gets steadily tougher the longer it goes on.
The game comes with three identical decks of cards (one for each player). These need to be kept separate, so it’s perhaps surprising that they don’t have distinguishable card backs. On the other hand, keeping the decks homogeneous does allow for the possibility of using the cards for variant games. In any event, the cards all have black edges so are prone to show wear – so this is a game you’d be advised to sleeve.
Although the players all use identical decks, each plays a character with its own distinct personality as defined by that character’s individual starting deck. Other than their starting cards and their zombie pile, all their other cards form their individual ‘area deck’ which can be accessed during play.
Though the game only takes up to three players, it comes with four characters from which to choose. There is also much replayability in the fact that there is a bunch of different ‘missions’ to choose from, including some labelled ‘short’ – particularly useful for learning the game. There are mechanisms for stepping up the difficulty (adding more zombies, natch).
At first sight, the game play is fairly standard deck building fare: draw and play five cards. However, cards will often be played other than for the action specified on them. Weapons and many other types of cards have to be ‘prepared’ before they can be utilised, and many require another card to be discarded in order to prepare them. Cards may also be discarded to ‘scout’ the area deck (turn the top card face up) and to retrieve scouted cards. You can also take cards from the area deck to add to those you can eventually play by discarding any survivors (survivor cards) you ‘save’. The game becomes a balancing act because you'll want to have cards prepared but the more you have out in this way, the thinner your deck will get, the faster it will recycle and the more zombies will be added in...
In a world where zombie games continue to come at us in waves, After the Virus was never going to be a game changer. It’s worth a look, nonetheless. The co-operative game is only moderately interactive: players play each round simultaneously and are each focused primarily on their own zombies, but items that heal can, for example, be used to aid another player. The solitaire play is solid and you are sure to find a level that offers you appropriate challenge. And for those of a compulsive nature, you’ll especially enjoy working your way sequentially through all 16 of the the escalating missions.